Imagine this: “I’ve just been assaulted by my husband, the police are called, they get him out of the house, and a few days later his sister and his female cousins stop by and harass me for calling the police on him. A week later, I see them at the community center, they give me some mean and dirty looks; I run into them at the store and they intentionally bump into me and call me names. They tell me to watch my back. What can I do?”
Violence by extended family is a widespread issue faced by battered Indian women. This series focuses on identifying collusion and beliefs that support it, with some steps advocates can take to make women safer.
Collusion creates a dangerous, stressful, and fearful situation for battered women and their children, particularly in Native communities where family ties are strong and communities are small.
Collusion allows a batterer to reinforce his use of abusive and violent tactics – by manipulating friends, family and systems he expands control over his partner. The abuser’s manipulation centers on making his partner look as though she is to blame for the violence, portraying her as a bad wife, a bad mother. The result? Isolation. Barriers go up between the victim and her extended family and support systems, while access to safety is severely compromised. She is isolated from those she needs to call on for help and support.
IDENTIFYING FAMILY MEMBER COLLUSION
Traditionally, as Indian people, we looked out for the elderly, the women, children, the sick, and the weaker members of our communities. Today many of us don’t do this. We place the blame for domestic abuse upon the woman. We indulge in victim blaming or we see the batterer as the victim. For instance, if an abuser cooks a meal or sheds a tear when missing his children, family members and friends often sympathize with him. Instead of seeing him as a perpetrator of violence, they see him as a victim. Family members and friends who feel sorry for the abuser are allowing themselves to be manipulated into colluding – widening the circle of abuse a battered woman experiences.
When a family member abuses their partner, we must ask ourselves do we step in and say that such behavior is unacceptable? Or, do we look the other way, thinking it’s not our place to say anything, believing they will work it out for themselves? What if we find ourselves making excuses for him, saying, “It’s her fault, she should have …” or “He wouldn’t do this if she didn’t…” In each case, we are supporting him in his use of all violence – allowing him to continue to abuse his wife, girlfriend, ex-wife or ex- girlfriend.
To collude means you have each other’s back no matter what. Even if a family member has committed an act of violence or a crime, the family will lie, threaten, blame, post bail, or stay tight-lipped about the incident. The family will not hold that family member responsible, or accountable for their actions and behavior; there are no consequences. On the other hand, if someone outside the family commits a crime or is violent against a family member, then the scenario changes. The family will then come together and become much more aggressive in dealing with the outsider.
The following is a small group exercise to critically analyze ways in which family members collude.
DON’T MESS WITH MY FAMILY – ASSESSING FAMILY MEMBER COLLUSION:
Choose one of the following topics for small group exercise/discussion:
- “Blood is thicker than water.” What does this mean to you?
- “Keep up with the Jones.” Is there rivalry between your family and another?
- “Family Secrets.” Keeping the family circle closed, keeping others out.
- “Family is Untouchable – Powerful in community.”
Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the chosen topic. Ask participants to look at how their family interacts with each other and then discuss how they interact with others.